Response to “Reference Checks: Neutral is the New Negative and Getting Negative Info is Gold”

Just read HR Capitalist’s blog post entitled “Reference Checks: Neutral is the New Negative, and Getting Negative Info is Gold…”. In it @Kris_Dunn discusses simply receiving “name, rank and serial number” on a candidate is the new standard of a negative reference. But is it? I’m going to go with sort of. I know, it’s a really weak answer but let me explain.

I am CEO of a company that provides automated reference checking technology called Our cloud-based solution checks thousands and thousands of references per month. Typically, automated reference-checking technologies like ours (there are a couple other companies provided similar, albeit differentiated products) see reference completion rates of over 80%. When I say completion, I am referring to a complete reference check with answers to all requested information. That is a pretty startling difference from the phone-based reference checking average of around 20% that our research indicates (as well as personal experience hiring a lot of people … I started my career as a technology recruiter).

So, back to my answer of simply getting name, rank and serial number as an indicator of a negative reference. Truth is that is depends a great deal on the position. Higher level professionals are more able to arrange calls with their references and get them to provide detailed information. Lower to mid level candidates may not have this luxury as the impact of a reference breaking corporate policy is just not worth it.

Beside the issue of career level, the much larger reason is that the phone-based reference checking model is flawed and will continue to yield fewer and fewer successful reference checks. They will also yield far fewer truly negative references where specific information is gathered from the call that will prevent a bad hire.

I say it’s a flawed model because it rests on premise that a reference provided by a candidate, who has a relationship with that candidate, is going to throw
their buddy under the bus to benefit someone whom they don’t know and have no interest in. Why would they do this? Got me. Corporate policy has just provided a convenient excuse for an already dumb request.

Automated reference checking technologies have started to disrupt this process finally and see far higher completion rates. Most importantly, the results can use assessment-based logic (at least in the case of who is the only one I can speak about first-hand) to make it predictive of on-the-job performance. We usually see negative reference rates between 15-20% versus under 5% which is average for phone based.

Back to HR Capitalists notion that no information is the new negative, under a flawed model there is probably some truth to that but we can do far better to make reference checking relevant again.